BY: MOIZ KHAN
In South Asian weddings, it is pretty common in lower class or for people in rural areas for the groom’s family to ask the bride’s family for certain things before marriage which could be used by the couple later. This custom of transaction of goods from the bride’s family is referred to as “Dowry”. Many of you would be surprised to know this but Dowry has been under practice since centuries in Medieval Europe, Africa, Indian sub-continent and the Middle East. One of the well-preserved and initial recorded information on dowry has been found in the Code of Hammurabi in Ancient Babylon which was the code of law for the Babylonians. Dowry was taken so much seriously at that time that it is one of the 282 laws written on that stone and it had been existing way before that.
Dowry is still prevalent in the sub-continental region right now. It is normal for the bride’s family to give a certain amount of money or things to the groom’s family by portraying it as something that will be used by the bride herself after marriage which is not the case in most of these instances and in such cases, dowry becomes a curse.
So many young women have problems getting married due to the fact they couldn’t provide the listed demands of the groom or his family. There are a list of things, demands or norms that make it difficult for women in South Asian society to get married like for instance a chubby or obese body, dark complexion, high education, social and financial status and to top it all off; dowry is of extremely high importance too, even in many well-educated families.
Dowry is one of the many things that makes a person think of the other person by the amount of possessions they have. When you start measuring a human being’s worth by the way they look or how much money they make or how much benefit they can give you in terms of social standing, you dehumanize them and turn them into a commodity. The value of a person’s character, creativity, personality is diminished, ignored and what’s left of them are things like their looks, social and financial background upon which they had no control over and was nature’s choice or merely a coincidence. When the basis of a relationship; whether it is friendship or marriage is built upon greed or lust, the chances of it being successful are already eradicated.
The birth of a daughter is considered as perceived as a burden among the ignorant and illiterate. It is not uncommon for married couples to pray for a son as they think the birth of a son would liberate them off certain liabilities and ensure financial stability when they grow up. Many illiterate pregnant women who are afraid of giving birth to a daughter themselves in the rural areas go to shrines of Sufi saints and wish and pray for the birth of a son out of fear of their husband and in-laws as the birth of a daughter is equivalent to bringing shame to the family. It is pretty common for parents to accumulate money their entire lives in order to save for their daughter’s or daughters’ weddings but despite of that, many from the lower middle or lower class are unable to meet the demands which the society or the groom’s family expects them to meet.
In many cases, the custom of dowry has taken many lives. When the bride’s family accepts the demands because they are anxious to get their daughter married; while not thinking about the long-term impact on her, they go to extreme lengths to get their demands meet and many times a simple argument, disagreement or deviation from the agreed upon dowry-items result into physical fights, acid attacks, domestic violence, harassment, emotional abuse which drives women towards suicide and even murders of entire families.
Thousands of women and their close family members have died due to dowry related fights in the sub-continent. According to researches published in MePRC Journal at University of Munich, approximately 2000 women in Pakistan die in dowry related deaths annually. According to National Crime reporting bureau of India, a bride is killed in every 90 minutes due to dowry related fights or abuse. These statistics are sky-rocketing in Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India as the trend of dowry is mostly prevalent in these countries.
There are many laws in place that ban the practice of dowry in many countries of the world including Pakistan and India but it is extremely difficult to impose the law practically because, it is done with the consent of families. Dowry is more of a social norm which brings the girls’ parents under peer pressure to gift material possessions to their daughters, so that it could solidify her marriage and also so that their daughter is able to be doughty amongst her in-laws because of the amount of money her parents decide to splurge on her marriage but in all these cases it is the direct or indirect cause of oppression of women as the concept of dowry enforces the belief that a woman has no worth of her own and needs material possessions to be considered as a life partner or even as a decent human being.
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